Lakshmi Iyer

20 Results


Poverty and Crime: Evidence from Rainfall and Trade Shocks in India

Concern about climate change has spurred a large body of scholarship examining how climate influences human behavior, particularly human conflict. While a link between climate and human conflict is well established, we still do not fully understand the mechanisms that underlie the observed relationship between rainfall and crime. In this paper the authors shed light on these mechanisms using four decades of district-level data from India. They first establish a robust effect of rainfall on different types of crime, with the strongest effects on violent crimes (including murder) and property crimes. They then go beyond previous studies, which simply document the link between weather variations and human conflict, and examine to what extent poverty is the main causal pathway between rainfall and crime. To do so they identify a source of income shocks for households in rural India that is completely independent of the amount of rainfall: trade reform that began in 1991. Findings show that violent crimes and property crimes, the types of criminal activities that are most sensitive to rainfall shocks, indeed respond to trade shocks. The larger the loss in trade protection a district experienced, the higher is the incidence of these crimes. Overall, the results provide evidence for income as a mechanism behind the observed rainfall-crime relationship, which had mostly been assumed in previous scholarship. Read More

Redrawing the Lines: Did Political Incumbents Influence Electoral Redistricting in the World’s Largest Democracy?

Most democratic countries undergo a process of redrawing their electoral boundaries every few years, usually with the goal of equalizing population sizes across constituencies. While this is important in maintaining the principle of one-person, one-vote, there is concern that the redistricting process can be influenced by political incumbents to create safe seats, where incumbents are unlikely to face strong electoral challenges ("gerrymandering"). In this paper the authors study this issue in the context of India, the world's largest democracy. India redrew the boundaries of national and state electoral constituencies in 2008 after a gap of three decades. Examining the influence of political incumbents on this redistricting process, the authors find that, by and large, the process achieved its primary goal of equalizing population sizes across constituencies. More importantly, the redistricting process does not appear to have been influenced by incumbent politicians to a great extent, although there is some evidence that the constituencies of specific politicians (advisory committee members) were less likely to undergo unfavorable changes. Overall, the redistricting process did not make a large difference to either the advantage enjoyed by the incumbent party or the electoral prospects of incumbent politicians. An important policy conclusion of the study is that it is possible to implement politically neutral redistricting plans in a developing country, provided that a non-political body is in charge of the process, and that the process is transparent and inclusive of all relevant stakeholders. Read More

Economic Transition and Private-Sector Labor Demand: Evidence from Urban China

One of the key economic and historic events of the late twentieth century was the transition of centrally planned socialist economies to market economies, including the movement of labor from state employment to private employment. The authors examine two questions: 1) What are effective policies for gradually transitioning labor into the private sector? 2) What is the adaptability of labor demand in the new private sector during economic transition? Data from urban China and show that delinking housing benefits from state-sector employment accounts for more than a quarter of the overall increase in labor supply to the private sector during 1986-2005. Furthermore, increasing the private-sector labor supply by 10 percent reduces wages by 1.8 to 3.2 percent. These results have several implications: First, employer-provided housing benefits contribute to reduced labor mobility across sectors, a phenomenon called "job-lock" (similar patterns have been documented for employer-provided health benefits in the United States). Second and more importantly, the private sector, even in its infancy, can absorb a significant amount of labor without large wage declines. However, the projected magnitudes of labor movement into the Chinese private sector are so large that they still imply drastic private-sector wage reductions, if capital and technology movements remain at the same rate as in these data. Thus, to minimize wage reductions, Chinese policy makers may want to consider policies that increase the availability of other factors of production into the private sector, such as greater capital availability or adoption of newer technologies, to raise labor productivity. Read More

Path-Breakers: How Does Women’s Political Participation Respond to Electoral Success?

Many explanations have been put forward to explain the gender gap in executive positions in finance, business, and politics. However, scholars know surprisingly little about the effects of exposure to women who are competitively selected into leadership positions. Focusing on India, the world's largest democracy, the authors obtained data on elections to state legislative assemblies in 3,473 constituencies from the Election Commission of India over the period 1980-2007 in which most states had six elections. They used data for the 16 major states of India which account for over 95 percent of the total population. The authors identified a large and significant increase in the subsequent share of women candidates fielded by major parties in Indian state elections. The increase arises mainly from an increased propensity for previous candidates to run for re-election, rather than the entry of new women candidates. Given that a substantial fraction of incumbents in Indian state elections do not re-run and female incumbents overall are less likely to re-run than male incumbents, this is an important result. There is, however, no significant increase in the probability that a woman wins the next election. Consistent with this, the estimated impact on women's candidacy fades over time although a significant impact persists through two elections, which is a period of 10 years. Overall, this study makes clear that it is important to identify the extent to which a spontaneous dynamic operates in launching women into the political sphere when quotas are absent. Read More

Sharpening Your Skills: Meeting Management Challenges in India

We revisit four articles where India and its managers confronted problems and seized opportunities on the topics of big data, branding, intellectual property protection, and creating a new-product category. Read More

Religion, Politician Identity, and Development Outcomes: Evidence from India

Minority social groups may be disadvantaged by policy choices made by democratically elected leaders. It is therefore pertinent to consider whether increasing the political representation of minority groups improves their outcomes. This paper investigates whether the religious identity of state legislators in India influences development outcomes, both for citizens of their religious group and for the population as a whole. Results show that raising the share of Muslim legislators in individual districts leads to a large and statistically significant decline in infant and neonatal mortality rates. Importantly, they find no significant difference in the impact of Muslim political representation on Muslim compared with non-Muslim households. Indeed, the estimated coefficients indicate smaller beneficial impacts for Muslim children. Overall, these findings contribute to a recent literature on the relationship between religion and development, and to the literature on politician identity. Read More

Caste and Entrepreneurship in India

Has India's political revolution been accompanied by corresponding changes in the economic sphere? This paper argues that for the most vulnerable, whether in villages or cities, the social structure has not changed. While Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and traditionally "middle-level" castes have made significant progress at the level of political representation in independent India, their progress in entrepreneurship has been uneven. By looking at the ownership of enterprises across the country, this paper sheds light on two larger narratives about India's emerging political economy: first, that the rich have benefitted more than the poor, the towns and cities more than the villages, and the upper castes more than the lower castes has acquired salience in several quarters. And second, that "Dalit entrepreneurship," a category conspicuous by its absence in India's business history, has become a significant trend. Findings by Lakshmi Iyer, Tarun Khanna, and Ashutosh Varshney show that while the "middle-level" castes have made progress in entrepreneurship, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are considerably under-represented in the entrepreneurial sphere. That is, for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, political gains have not manifested themselves in greater entrepreneurial prowess. Read More

Sharpening Your Skills: Leveraging Intellectual Property

Many companies lack a coherent policy for maximizing the value of their intellectual property. In this collection from our archives, Harvard Business School faculty offer insights on the importance of IP and how best to protect and use it. Read More

Protecting against the Pirates of Bollywood

Hollywood's earnings in India have largely been disappointing. Professor Lakshmi Iyer believes the problem has more to do with intellectual pirates than the cinematic kind. Open for comment; 13 Comments posted.

How ‘Political Voice’ Empowers the Powerless

Women in India often are targets of verbal abuse, discrimination, and violent crimes—crimes that are underreported. Fortunately, an increase in female political representation seems to be giving female crime victims a voice in the criminal justice system, according to new research by Harvard Business School professor Lakshmi Iyer and colleagues. Open for comment; 4 Comments posted.

The Power of Political Voice: Women’s Political Representation and Crime in India

Protecting the rights of disadvantaged citizens remains a challenge in both developing and developed countries. These individuals often are targets of verbal abuse, discrimination, and violent crime. Using evidence from India, this paper shows that political representation of disadvantaged groups is an important means of giving them a voice in the criminal justice system. Research was conducted by Lakshmi Iyer of Harvard Business School, Anandi Mani of the University of Warwick, and Prachi Mishra and Petia Topalova of the International Monetary Fund. Read More

Developing Asia’s Largest Slum

In a recent case study, HBS assistant professor Lakshmi Iyer and lecturer John Macomber examine ongoing efforts to forge a public-private mixed development in Dharavi—featured in the film Slumdog Millionaire. But there is a reason this project has languished for years. From the HBS Alumni Bulletin. Read More

Mental Health in the Aftermath of Conflict

Wars are detrimental to the populations and the economy of affected countries. Over and above the human cost caused by deaths and suffering during a time of conflict, survivors of conflict are often left in poor economic circumstances and mental-health distress even after the conflict ends. How large are these costs? How long does it take for conflict-affected populations to recover from the mental stress of conflict? What policies are appropriate to assist mental health recovery? While considerable attention has been paid to post-war policies with regard to recovery in physical and human capital, mental health has received relatively less attention. The World Bank's Quy-Toan Do and HBS professor Lakshmi Iyer review the nascent literature on mental health in the aftermath of conflict, discuss the potential mechanisms through which conflict might affect mental health, and illustrate the findings from their study of mental health in a specific post-conflict setting: Bosnia and Herzegovina. Read More

The Bloody Millennium: Internal Conflict in South Asia

What accounts for the disturbing trend of increasing terrorism and associated fatalities in South Asia? In 2007, a quarter of all terrorist attacks worldwide were committed in South Asia, second only to Iraq. HBS professor Lakshmi Iyer presents the first comprehensive analysis of internal conflict in South Asia using multiple data sources and incorporating a long-run time frame. She finds that the intensity of internal conflict in the post-2001 period is strongly associated with poverty, both in a cross-country comparison and in a comparison of districts within India and Nepal. Measures implemented by regional and national governments to combat internal violence vary considerably across countries and over time. Typically, the use of military force or relying on unofficial militias has not proved to be a successful counterinsurgency tactic in South Asia; strengthening police activity and using a political accommodation approach has led to some successes in the past. Read More

The Cost of Property Rights: Establishing Institutions on the Philippine Frontier Under American Rule, 1898-1918

Economists generally agree that a system of transparent and secure property rights is beneficial for growth and development. A large literature emphasizes the role of property rights in spurring long-term investments, improving productivity, changing labor allocations, and increasing access to formal sources of credit. This paper describes U.S. attempts to implement property rights reforms in the Philippines in the early twentieth century. Iyer and Maurer document that, two decades after the arrival of the Americans, property rights in the Philippines had become unambiguously less secure, and that political and budgetary constraints played a large role in inhibiting the progress of reforms. Read More

Traveling Agents: Political Change and Bureaucratic Turnover in India

Politicians and bureaucrats are two important pillars of governance, but while politicians are motivated by short-term electoral pressures, bureaucrats are driven by long-term career concerns. This difference in the nature of their incentives is, in most cases, deliberate and constitutionally provided for. Iyer and Mani address two key questions in this paper: How do politicians facing short-term electoral pressures control bureaucrats with low-powered incentives? In turn, how do bureaucrats respond to these incentives? The authors develop a simple framework and provide empirical evidence on both the politicians' and the bureaucrats' strategies, using a detailed data set on the entire career histories of officers in the Indian Administrative Service, the top layer of government bureaucracy in India. Read More

Colonial Land Tenure, Electoral Competition and Public Goods in India

How is the impact of historical institutions felt today? This comparative analysis by Banerjee and Iyer highlights the impact of a specific historical institution on long-term development, specifically the land tenure systems instituted during British colonial rule. The paper compares the long-term development outcomes between areas where controls rights in land were historically given to a few landlords and areas where such rights were more broadly distributed. The paper also documents the impact of these differing historical institutions on political participation and electoral competition in the post-colonial period. Read More

High Hills, Deep Poverty: Explaining Civil War in Nepal

Nepal, the home of Mount Everest, has been gripped in recent years by civil war. A new paper by Harvard Business School professor Lakshmi Iyer and Quy-Toan Do of the World Bank looked at the roots of Nepal's conflict from a variety of angles. For the future, investing in poverty reduction strategies is a key for peace, Iyer says. Read More

Public Action for Public Goods

In poor rural communities, public goods such as health and education services, clean water, electricity, and transport facilities are remarkably scarce. Within this picture of overall inadequacy there is considerable variation both across countries and inside national boundaries. How can these variations in public goods be explained? This paper surveys theoretical and empirical research on the characteristics of groups and the ability of members to act collectively to promote group interests. There remain many missing pieces in the public goods puzzle and there are important policy implications as a result. Read More

Poverty, Social Divisions and Conflict in Nepal

More than 70 civil wars have occurred around the world since 1945. Understanding what causes such violent conflicts to begin and then fester is a topic of increasing research interest to economists. In Nepal the conflict known as "the People's War" began in 1996 and spread to all parts of the country, resulting in the deaths of more than 13,000 people. Do and Iyer considered a wide range of economic and social factors that they hypothesized could affect the likelihood of violent conflict, and econometrically examined their relationship with conflict intensity. These factors include geographic conditions (mountains and forests), economic development, social diversity including linguistic diversity, and government investment in infrastructure. Do and Iyer's nuanced approach allowed them to examine the spread of a single conflict across different parts of the country and over time. Read More